The scene: cold. Really cold, per my wimpy standards. I’ve come to the realization that I don’t like the cold. And despite otherwise liking my location, I’ve never wanted to be elsewhere as much as I did this morning. My van is frozen shut, all of the cracks and hinges coated in a slick layer of ice. But I have an appointment to get my oil changed. And I really need my oil changed.
The action: I can’t tell you exactly why, but I have a weird phobia of business-like phone calls. I hate making them, hate taking them. So I wasn’t letting yesterday’s phone call go to waste because of a little ice. I had let the service department know that I’ve got a bit of a unique situation–no driver’s seat, specifically, and a driving contraption that only I’m trained to operate, so I would have to pull it into the garage. “No problem,” I’m told. I wasn’t sure what “no problem” meant, but I could hear a hint of something off in the guy’s voice, something that said, “surely someone here will be able to drive it.”
Life lesson #2532: preemptory phone calls are useless.
I show up and, sure enough, set the whole operation into a panic. Everyone, that is, except for a very chatty elderly chap who took down my mileage and VIN. While the service manager was calling his manager to see if they were even allowed to let me drive into the garage, this guy was trying to fill the silence.
- “I’ve been in two separate car wrecks and shattered 5 of my vertebrae.”
- “Before I retired from chemical engineering, I was making around $115,000 a year.”
- “My wife and I just recently got custody of two of our grandchildren.”
All of these points were strange, and none of my business. But I was alright listening. Until he really got started:
Him: “So you were born like this?”
Me: “Like what?”
Him: “Well, you know…handicapped.”
Me: “It’s genetic, so yeah, I’ve always had the disability.”
Him: “Bless your heart.”
At this point, I typically let it go. Once someone gets into the pity mentality, it’s hard to get them out of it. But I had time to kill.
Him: “Well you’re just not letting it stop you.”
Me: “I’ve got things I want to do and resources available, there’s no reason for it to stop me.”
Him: “Are you independent?”
Me: “I drive, I live on my own, I make my own food, I’m in grad school. But independence isn’t a measure of anything, really, it’s just what I want.”
Him: “See, you’re just so inspirational. People like you inspire me.”
Me: “I understand the sentiment and I think you mean it as a compliment, but I also think that if I weren’t in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t find me inspiring. I would just be someone doing what they’re supposed to do.” (Side note, I don’t really think that what I do is what people are supposed to do, but I sense that his standards would hold this to be the case.)
Him: “A young lady living on her own and getting educated, I think I’d still be inspired.”
This is where I realized I was dealing with compound expectations. And dealing with an inner conflict.
Based on what he had told me, he had me pegged at disadvantaged for at least three reasons: disability, gender, and age. He’s not entirely wrong. But it didn’t set right, for reasons that I’m still working on pinpointing. Being an inspiration to someone you care about is fulfilling, especially if they mean it literally–if they are motivated, by your actions or existence, to do or create something, you’ve got magic. Being an inspiration to a stranger is really odd, especially for the reasons he cited.
But the man was really sweet–genuinely nice–and my instincts pull me toward kindness. I’m in the self-improvement business of trying not to let the world make me completely hard and cynical (and what a struggle), so when someone is being nice and that niceness is misplaced, my brain splits. Side one wants to foster warmth and humanity. Side two wants to inform and enlighten. They get along, most of the time, but in situations like this–really stubborn but well-meaning ignorance–they get pitted against one another and I end up going home in a weird, funky kind of state.
What kind of person gets offended when someone calls her inspirational?
I do. And I’m pretty sure that’s okay. I’ve dealt with this moral conundrum before.
But just as I was leaving (to go to another dealership, because they finally determined that they couldn’t change my oil), the man told me I had changed his whole outlook on life.
He could be totally full of crap, knowingly or otherwise. But regardless, haven’t I asked for this? In my professional and creative endeavors, I’m always trying to change people’s mindsets. So it seems good. Right?
But my primary concern right now is what to watch on Netflix. Where I should order my pizza from. Whether to get red or white wine that I’ll drink by myself as I pretend I’m not completely alone in my living room.
Why would anyone put outlook-changing responsibility on me?